Though its name might suggest otherwise, the French dip sandwich was invented in Los Angeles, California. The sandwich is layered with decadent slices of beef on a French roll and then doused in roasting pan juices (a French technique known as “au jus”). The exact restaurant at which the French dip was created has long been subject of debate. Local favorites Philippe’s and Cole’s both lay claim to the sandwich, but experts believe that Philippe’s may have the edge. The restaurant first opened its doors in 1908 and has served Angelenos the iconic sandwich for more than a century.
Two Los Angeles restaurants have claimed to be the birthplace of the French dip sandwich: Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Philippe the Original. Philippe’s website describes the dish as a “specialty of the house”, and the words “Home of the Original French Dip Sandwich” are present in the restaurant’s logo. At Phillippe’s, the roll is dipped in the hot beef juices before the sandwich is assembled, and is served “wet”, while at Cole’s it is served with a side of beef juices. The sandwich can also be requested “double dipped”, where both halves of the sandwich are dipped before serving, at either establishment. Both restaurants feature their own brand of spicy mustard that is traditionally used by patrons to complement the sandwich.
The controversy over who originated the sandwich remains unresolved. Both restaurants were established in 1908. However, Cole’s claims to have originated the sandwich shortly after the restaurant opened in 1908, while Philippe’s claims that owner Philippe Mathieu invented it in 1918.
The story of the sandwich’s invention by Philippe’s has several variants: some sources say that it was first created by a cook or a server who, while preparing a sandwich for a police officer or fireman, accidentally dropped it into a pan of meat drippings. The patron liked it, and the dish surged in popularity shortly after its invention. Other accounts say that a customer who didn’t want some meat drippings to go to waste requested his sandwich be dipped in them. Still others say that a chef dipped a sandwich into a pan of meat drippings after a customer complained that the bread was stale (sounds plausible to me). Cole’s account states that the sandwich was invented by a sympathetic chef, Jack Garlinghouse, for a customer who was complaining of sore gums. Some accounts tell Philippe’s version of events but assign the location to Cole’s. The mystery of the sandwich’s invention might not be solved due to a lack of information and observable evidence.
Over the years, I have dined on many French dip sandwiches. The best was at the El Tovar on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They slipped some type of cheese into the sliced beef that gave it a unique richness. Maybe it was Brie?